Onwards to 2013
POLLS are supposed to be held in early 2013 but certain political parties for reasons known have hit the pre-campaign trail, capturing supporters in key constituencies, especially the middle class, with an urban youth bulge representative of a smaller but essential component of the voting population.
These future stakeholders, unlike in Tunisia where it took 25 years for young people to register their disapproval and vote for a government of their choice, want their voices heard but admit to many challenges.
Historically (and politically), a multitude of socio-religious fissures that fracture this country have resulted in an amorphous and disunited force.
Here religious conservatism and sectarianism have become game-changers and much has changed with the burgeoning middle classes no longer guardians of liberal knowledge and tolerance but right-leaning, with an aversion to western capitalist democracies.
In 2013, the Election Commission (EC) estimates 83 million registered voters with 36 million new voters. It has arrived at this figure after countrywide verification of electoral rolls based on the National Database and Registration Authority’s records.
Free and transparent elections for a representative government has hardly ever been the hallmark of democracy in Pakistan: past Free and Fair Election Network reports cite low voter turnout, poorly trained election officials, fraudulent and suspicious voting methods with the presence of police inside polling stations.
Ask a Pakistani which party or candidate he or she supports, and the response is hesitant, almost lethargic because voting is hardly a priority. Many remain unsure about whom they support or even why, maybe they’ll just go with the party that brings development and essential infrastructure (new roads, drainage systems, security and schools) to their
neighbourhood; some won’t even bother to vote.
But voting in a democracy is critical to future polls. It helps address several questions and meet several challenges.
For instance, how should political parties structure campaigns to attract the youth? Is the EC equipped to address poll rigging and ensure fool-proof voting procedures so that women voters travelling from inaccessible districts can get to polling stations without fear of being coerced? How does one end political favouritism that offers unopposed seats
to candidates from political families?
Existing major political parties have hardly launched a vigorous campaign in rural towns and districts distributing their manifestoes door-to-do or outlining Pakistan’s pressing issues that require attention from the next government.
In fact, this is an important aspect, for the success of any political campaign lies in proposing realistic solutions to Pakistan’s problems: the education emergency, healthcare gaps, economic instability, women and minority rights, food inflation, post-flood reconstruction, terrorism and religious intolerance.
Hardly any political party leader has been questioned openly about his past failed policies and projects by Pakistanis on an open platform considering the same party leader plans to run in 2013.
Those running in 2013 should perhaps think of engaging in a meaningful televised debate on how they propose to change Pakistan in their lifetime (five years is too short a time frame for rectifying past errors) without mud-slinging and without Pakistan’s controversial television hosts who plug their agendas.
An alternative as Pakistan’s political battles heat up is Imran Khan. The question is whether the popular Khan can translate his support into votes for Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf (PTI): 272 directly elected seats in the National Assembly is asking for a political tsunami and IK well knows his meal ticket lies in effective coalitions, and bringing established
former politicians into the PTI fold.
For many observers, all this comes with the army’s tacit support of IK. As PTI’s voter registration campaign intelligently brings in swing voters, who might not have registered to vote, supporters aggressively use social media tools (send an SMS with your name and city to a certain number to register with PTI and get campaign-related event information).
With growing political apathy, where the churn of constantly morphing political partnerships makes politics volatile, it also dissuades the voter, creating cynicism about the process.
However, given these critical concerns as we head towards 2013, the 2008 election (when 49 parties applied for poll symbols with the EC) is a reminder that it was not all failure for a country where the military has ruled for more years than civilian governments.
The 18th Amendment includes aspects of electoral reform to ensure greater election transparency, including the participation of opposition parties when appointing the chief election commissioner and EC members.
After working on a five-year strategic plan, including 15 electoral reform goals with time frames, 2013 will be crunch time for the EC. A vibrant media, a determined civil society and an assertive judiciary, though often locking horns with the executive and the legislative branches of government, are positive markers. Despite these changes, the electoral
framework needs more work, obvious in the 2010 by-elections. Its test lies in how the elections are managed to create a smooth transition and transfer of power without campaigning violations and fraudulent voting, regardless of which party wins.
Historically, two dynastic political parties have mastered the art of winning the alternate election in Pakistan, and suffering unnatural coalitions in office, all the while remaining in the voters’ bad books.
When Pakistanis go to the polls in 2013, each vote will count (but it’s unlikely your vote will change the outcome) — this despite the weak accountability procedures for political parties, manipulated polling, financial irregularities and the thousands that still remain disenfranchised in this country. So is there a political leader you support, and why? Send
me a response. (I know that’s a private choice but it would help to know what the best choices are for Pakistan).
The writer is a senior assistant editor at the Herald.